Dr. Marsha Linehan has likened those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) to third degree emotional burn victims. Even in recovery from the disorder, when we no longer meet the criteria for the diagnosis, we typically remain highly emotionally sensitive people. The difference is, we’ve learned skills to manage the intensity of our emotions and to be mindful of the differences between thoughts, emotions, and feelings. This goes a long way to help with issues such as impulsivity and black or white thinking.
One of the keys that I have recently found to be incredibly helpful in releasing some unnecessary suffering and embracing life with acceptance is the concept of not taking things personally. I recently re-read the book “The Four Agreements” by don Miguel Ruiz. In it, he gets into how nothing anyone does is EVER about us. It’s about them (and likewise, of course.)
This means that when people say something hurtful, it is about their experience. Perhaps they are afraid. Perhaps they never learned skills to manage their emotions in a healthy way. Perhaps they do not understand the boundary of where they end and you begin. I’ve been applying this idea to behaviors from others that I previously would have judged critically. What has resulted is an increase in compassion for that person and a reduction of suffering on my end. Judging others, holding grudges, and taking things personally, in general, take a lot of energy.
It’s not that I don’t have an initial visceral reaction sometimes when someone does something that is seemingly quite truly “directed” at me. With the perspective of not taking things personally in mind, I acknowledge that my feelings may be hurt from words spoken, but the words spoken are coming from the mouth of a person who sees the world in his or her unique way. Behind the person’s words are his or her feelings, thoughts, perceptions, and all of their experiences up until that moment.
Embracing this perspective does not mean I give people a free pass to treat me poorly. I will certainly let someone know that their behavior toward me is hurtful and unacceptable to me, but I will not take it personally. I will not internalize it, believe it, and make it my story. Is there some truth to meanness directed at us? There can be. We don’t need to go black or white and not try to distill the essence of the person’s message and from a healthy place of reflection consider whether there is room for us to grow. Will we be in the wrong sometimes? Sure, and we can own up to that and make the changes that we need to — but we don’t have to buy into any of the guilt trips or other negative thoughts and emotions someone may try to deliver to us with their words.
It’s important to note that don Miguel Ruiz says that NOTHING anyone does is about us, it’s about them. This includes the “positive/good” stuff as well: compliments, praise, and the like. To find true balance and piece with this release of not taking anything personally, we must also realize that while people genuinely love us and want us to feel good with the words they direct toward us, words can switch from loving to negative at anytime, so it’s important to receive the goodness but take compliments and praise with the same grain of salt.
What are your thoughts on releasing taking things personally. Do you think you could try it as an experiment for a day? An hour? Just notice your emotional reactions to other people’s words and actions toward you. Then, consider visualizing that the person’s words and behaviors are more about them than you. What might this person’s choice of words and behaviors say about them? Are they hurting? Are they afraid or insecure? Your compassion might grow and suffering reduce if you consider these questions and act from the different place you find yourself emotionally.
Thanks for reading.